Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tree of Life - An interpretation.

*Spoilers, obviously.

A lot has been said about the film's daring montage sequences. Many comparisons have been made to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 for the film's scope and ambition. Leaving the theater I was less impressed with the all the dazzling natural wonders and their breathtaking epic-ness than I was with the earnestness of the lives portrayed and the amazing performances all around.

At the center of the film is its working thesis. There are two ways of living. There is the way of nature, and the way of grace. Nature cares only for itself. It seeks pleasure, and in doing so it is a destructive force. Grace is meek. In the face of nature it takes insult and returns only composure.

In the film these two forces are personified by Jack's Father and Mother respectively. More importantly, though, they are embodied by Jack himself as he comes of age. In his innocence Jack is meek under the heavy thumb of his father. He offers him fear and respect in the face of impossible expectations and harsh reprimands. Jack cannot understand his father, only his permissive mother makes any sense to him.

But, as nature would have it, Jack cannot be innocent forever. As adolescence sets in Jack's grace fades in the wake of his nature. By the end of the film young Jack concedes that he is more like his father than his mother, implying his fall from the grace. His young brother, presumably the one who is dead at the film's outset, remains disarmingly gentle and compassionate last we see him.

Seen through the same thesis. The ambitious montage near the beginning of the film, which begins as Jack's grieving mother questions her faith in the wake of her sons death, takes the form of the nature which she cannot fully contain. She chafes under well meaning bromides as her friend attempts to help her cope, knowing the answer to her grief lies in some darker corner of herself. In this interpretation, the montage which is the films devisive centerpeice is both an earnest representation of the makings of life on earth, as well as an impressionistic representation of Jacks mother's emotional state, and by way of her, the viewer and anyone else faced with such a natural and unavoidable occurance.

In the film's Felliniesque resolution Jack imagines or perceives his mothers acceptance of his brother's death as she symbolically releases him. This final scene I believe attempts to finally unite the films two divergent approaches. If Mallick's stunning natural wonders are at first implied emotional states, here they are fully reconciled, as people from Jack's life(including his younger self) inhabit this seemingly imagined landscape where they make peace with their earthly struggles. This purely subjective setting, while it might be a place in the sky where Jack's mother says "That's where God lives", is most likely the workings of Jack's subconscious where the two forces that "wrestle inside", through his empathy, find some reconciliation as well.

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